This is an uncompromising tale of the excesses of the Jazz Age, with drunkenness, debauchery, and murder all playing their part as a raucous bash unfolds and finally comes undone onstage. The party in question is held by the showgirl Queenie and her lover Burrs, a blackface clown. Other showbiz types--producers, strippers, singers, has-beens, and never-will-be's--show up to join the fun. When Queenie's friend Kate arrives with a gigolo named Black in tow, an attraction between Queenie and Black ignites and jealousies flare.
The Broadway Wild Party played in a large proscenium theater, but SpeakEasy gives the musical a much more intimate feel on its smaller thrust stage. There are positives and negatives to this new setting, but the upshot is that it alleviates some of the complaints that people had about the original production: Since the action is almost literally in-your-face, the show's energy is more potent and the intricacies of Queenie and Burrs' complex, highly dysfunctional relationship come more clearly into focus here.
The downside is that the fluidity of the story is staunched somewhat by the complications of moving so many characters around on such a small playing area. Director Andrew Volkoff frequently has key scenes taking place so far downstage that it's unlikely that a good share of the audience sitting on the sides can follow them, and there are instances when secondary characters seem to be pulling focus from the principals. During the latter part of the show, in particular, transitions between a series of short scenes appear awkward. Volkoff does excellent work with the big ensemble numbers, though; highly effective are the presentational numbers when the party is first getting underway and, later, when the revelry begins to degenerate into fights and tears ("Gin"/"Wild").
This production is blessed with a fine cast, headed by Bridget Beirne as Queenie and Christopher Chew as Burrs. Both are excellent and are supported by wonderful performers, notably Kent French as the bisexual, drug-abusing Jackie and Maureen Keillor as the aging legend Delores Montoya. Since LaChiusa's jazz-heavy score is one of the finest created for a musical in several years, it's essential to note that SpeakEasy's orchestra, under the direction of Paul S. Katz, renders it perfectly.
Such problems notwithstanding, The Wild Party holds up well outside its city of origin. SpeakEasy has once again taken on a challenging musical and shown us why it is a relevant and exciting drama.
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